Locally based, small-scale social care co-operatives

Last year the subject of social care and the way forward offered by the co-operative model was considered in this column:

“The care system is in urgent need of reform. Private companies profiteer, whilst older people, (and all) who rely on social care and the staff that deliver it, pay the price. The market in social care services is broken – incentivising a race to the bottom on quality and workforce conditions, a lack of accountability, and de-personalisation of services”.

Could the active membership and co-operative ownership of workers, service users, volunteers and family members rebuild public trust in services through a socially inclusive solution where the system of care is owned by the recipients?

It was surprising to find no mention of this sector in the Social Economy Alliance  post-election outreach (below) – but there were four passing references in its manifesto (above, left).

As Pat Conaty has frequently pointed out, in a growing number of countries co-operative models of social care are expanding; many will agree with him that these approaches can be further developed in the UK. More in this video.

Personal experience leads the writer to advocate that such co-operatives will provide optimum care if locally based and not large. Conaty finds that social co-operatives “celebrate and prove that small is beautiful, and do so through dynamic forms of democracy” He adds that most Italian social co-operatives have fewer than 30 worker-owners and less than 100 other stakeholder members.

A further search led to the website of Wales’ Social Co-ops Forum which has, as one of its aims, the encouragement and support for the sustainable development of local co- operatives. It was no surprise to find that David Smith was one of the founding members.

The writer has seen at first hand the advantages of co-operatives employing local people to give care in the home, rather than in a communal setting. They will have the same background as the person being helped and see him or her as a neighbour in need of help, to be treated with respect instead of indifference, neglect or – at worst – active cruelty.

The performance of larger, profit-driven companies can fall short, giving only a fraction of the care stipulated in contracts. If the individual scheduled to receive help is deteriorating mentally and unable to complain effectively it has been known for notes to be pushed through doors saying that carers were unable to gain admittance.

A local care provider would be far less able to ‘get away’ with such neglect; the neighbourhood, as well as ’the active membership and co-operative ownership of workers, service users, volunteers and family members’, would informally oversee the care, adding another dimension to that formally exercised by the co-operative.






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